Roleplaying Resources

The Wizard's Apprentice

This has been pared down from the original.

From: J. Hawke Date: Wed, 29 Dec 1999 00:20:11 GMT

In my campaign, it is assumed that apprentices can cast a few minor cantrips after spending many years in study and apprenticeship. These are short-lived cantrips with no lasting effect and they can't do anything to anyone that really impacts them in an even minorly lasting manner. Things like creating a quick “hot spot” to light candles when you wave your hand over them. It's a candle, so you can light it, but you couldn't use it to set fire to a handkerchief or even a dry piece of paper because even that is too complicated. Really basic stuff like that. Things most people don't think are really all that much “fun”.

So, maybe anyone with 9 int or greater can learn.
Why are mages so rare?

Simple motivation and availability of knowledge in my campaigns. Mages are extremely rare because no one wants to spend three or four or more years of their childhood sweeping floors, straightening book shelves, making beds, emptying chamber pots, ironing BVDs, etc., etc., etc. only to finally achieve the small goal of lighting a candle by waving their hand over it. It's rather anti-climactic if you're not extremely dedicated to the journey itself. Magery is not for those wanting immediate results.

By the same token, mages aren't going to just waste their valuable research time training someone who isn't serious about learning the craft. They send would-be apprentices out on strange and difficult errands to test their resolve, make high demands of the would-be apprentice's family to pay for the training, run the poor kid ragged making sure he really does want to be a mage, etc. Most folks just aren't up to the challenge or don't want to be bothered by it.

At the end of three or four years, most of this kid's companions will have jobs, a little bit of savings, practical money-making skills and a good start on a life in addition to the fact that they have enough fighting skill to defend themselves adequately in case they run into trouble. The mage? Well, he's unemployed, dirt poor, has no practical money-making experience aside from side-show carnival tricks (but how many times will people pay to see you light a candle without touching it?) and has a few very basic spells to show for all of his trouble. On top of that, he can only use one of them a day at the most and then he's out of “tricks” so to speak for the next 24 hours. He's seriously out of shape compared to his friends, spent years of his childhood locked away somewhere when he could have been having fun and can't defend himself worth a darn. Now add the fact that he's not going to be very effective as a long-term adventurer without some great support from his friends and a whole lot of time and experience to boost his skills to a point of survivable longevity and you've got an occupation that most folks think is just plain foolishness.

Mages want it this way. It discourages the foolish and the weak-minded from dabbling with things that they won't take the time to understand and respect.

In times when a man has to work 12-18 hour days just to feed himself, most can't afford the time or the effort to put that puzzle together. The common man just doesn't have the time or the endurance to sort out complex magical formulas when he has to find a means to support himself.

They spend their first year doing nothing more than “maid service” work. They clean up after their mentor and the other apprentices (if any), cook meals, wash dishes, iron clothes, etc. Unseen Servants just aren't quite as good with the starch. ;-) Year two starts magic theory lessons and lab examples. They start picking up cantrip basics sometime in their third year and usually learn a few by the end of that year or the beginning of their fourth. The next few years get progressively more complicated until the mage finally starts the game as a 1st level Wizard knowing Cantrip, Dispel Magic, Read Magic and usually 1d4+1 other 1st level spells. By this time, he's usually been studying for almost a decade on average and has finally paid off his debt to his mentor.

As an example [of lessons for an apprentice], one apprentice was given a quarterstaff by his mentor and was asked to perch/balance upon the end of it in the center of the room for two hours. If he had achieved enlightenment at the end of those two hours, he could move on to the next lesson. Of course, the exercise was impossible for an apprentice to complete alone and the whole point was that he had to keep trying even though he knew that he would fail. The lesson was persistance and patience and, about a week later, the character finally understood what he was being taught and got to move on.